Photograph by Zoë Lake
by T.D. McKinnon
Mushin: the term is a shortened form of, ‘Mushin no shin’ (無心の心). This Zen expression basically means ‘mind without mind’; referring to the state of simply ‘Being Present’. A state of mind that is not fixed or cluttered by thoughts of anticipation or concerns about which technique to employ, or by emotions of anger, fear or excitement, and therefore does not obstruct the self as it acts, and reacts, according to its training and exactitudes in combat, or in any part of life, where much preparation has been undertaken.
Table of Contents
· Instinctive action/reaction uncluttered by anticipation or emotion.
· Zen master Takuan Sōhō and his thoughts on Mushin.
· Belief is the ally and doubt is the backstabber.
· Mushin is an essential component for success in anything.
· Practice and trust will strengthen your Mushin.
Mushin is achieved when a karateka’s mind is free of random thoughts, free of anger, free of fear, and particularly free of ego during combat and, or, other facets of life. When Mushin is achieved during combat there is an absence of loose or rambling thoughts, leaving the practitioner free to act and react without hesitation according to all of the study and training that has brought the karateka to this point. Relying on, not what you think should be your next move, but on what your highly tuned, instinct directs you to do.
This Zen mind state is just one of the esoteric accoutrements which complement the consummate, experienced and well-practiced martial artist. Legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō is reputed to have said, “The mind must always be in the state of flow, for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it could mean death. When the swordsman faces an opponent, he is not to think of himself, his opponent, or of his enemy's sword movements. He just stands with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The swordsman deletes his rational mind from the situation as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man's subconscious that strikes.”
Belief is the ally of the highly trained karateka, soldier, police officer, or high-risk security operative; belief is the supporter of Mushin, and will have your back. Doubt, on the other hand, is the infiltrator, the ripple in the flow, the enemy of Mushin that could cause your downfall. Mushin will save your life in the worst case scenario. However, make sure you have put in the time, the training and the dedication to dispel any doubts; because doubt will weaken and destroy your Mushin. In that worst case scenario mentioned, doubt is the traitor that could get you killed.
Although it is difficult for the inexperienced, inept or novice kata judge or instructor to identify; Mushin can be and must be demonstrated during the performance of kata. Without Mushin, kata becomes just a sequence of moves strung together in a kind of karate dance. When practising kata, practice from the Mushin.
Similar to many of the esoteric concepts utilised by the martial arts, it is by no means exclusive to the martial arts. Mushin, in Japanese, or wuxin, in Chinese, could be termed as a light, Zen meditative state, which is recognised and utilised by all manner of the various arts, for example painters, actors, singers, dancers, sculptors, poets, writers, and many, many more.
So, for the advanced karateka, all of the training, all of the drills, and all of the countless repetitions of all the various computations of combinations that the karateka has performed over the months, years and decades are like money in the bank. When it comes from Mushin, deep within, the less there is to worry about the actual combat. You learn to ‘trust It’; and know that it will always be there to guide you to safety.
Operating on that level, to maintain that amount of belief, you must be confident that you have done more than enough to be ready for anything that might occur. Having complete trust in your skill-set, you do not have to think about exactly what it is that you will do; you just have to know that you will react to whatever occurs, in the most appropriate way, at that moment of necessity. That is Mushin.